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IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Final report

K.1: Child sexual abuse

The nature and scale of child sexual abuse

1. Children are sexually abused every day in England and Wales. In the year ending September 2021, police forces recorded a total of 67,675 sexual offences against children. One recent estimate – described as “conservative” – suggested that around 500,000 children are abused in a single year. Another estimate suggested at least 15 percent of girls and 5 percent of boys are sexually abused before the age of 16. The abuse includes sexual exploitation by groups, involving the most degrading and destructive acts, including being repeatedly raped or sexually assaulted, sometimes over months or years. There has been a rapid escalation in the number of children being groomed on social media platforms as online-facilitated abuse and sexual exploitation increasingly overlap. As the government’s April 2019 Online Harms White Paper observed, the “sheer scale of CSEA [child sexual exploitation and abuse] online is horrifying”. The internet has been used to live stream the sexual abuse of children from around the world for as little as 93 pence.

2. Each act of sexual abuse is a crime. In 2021, the National Crime Agency estimated that there were between 550,000 and 850,000 individuals in the UK who posed varying degrees of sexual risk to children. Chief Constable Simon Bailey, at that time the National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Child Protection and Abuse Investigations and now retired, told the Inquiry that the police were seeing “an exponential increase in reports of abuse”, but also “levels of depravity that are – if they could get worse, are getting worse. We are seeing babies being subjects of sexual abuse”.

Improving the understanding of the scale of child sexual abuse

3. As set out in the UK government’s Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy (2021), child sexual abuse offences, including indecent image offences, recorded by police increased approximately 267 percent between 2013 and March 2020. It recognised that:

it is difficult to truly understand the scale of offending and how many victims and survivors remain unidentified because of under-reporting, under-identification of victims and survivors by agencies, and a lack of robust survey data”.

4. Limitations with current methods of data collection have hampered the Inquiry’s ability to conduct a realistic assessment of how many of the 12.7 million children in England and Wales have been sexually abused, or are at risk of sexual abuse, by whom and in what settings. There is no consistent approach to the recording of data, with different organisations developing their own approaches to categorising and recording child sexual abuse. There are also high levels of non-reporting. The Inquiry is in no doubt, however, that the scale of child sexual abuse and exploitation is considerably greater than is currently recorded.

5. The government’s Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy (2021) recognised that “the quality and extent of data that is collected on offender and victim characteristics, including, but not limited to, age, gender and ethnicity, is inadequate”. Public agencies rely on accurate and detailed data to make the best strategic and operational responses for the protection of children. This is not possible if the nature of the abuse and changing patterns are not well understood. The Inquiry therefore recommends improvements to the data collected about child sexual abuse by the introduction of a single core data set.

Recommendation 1: A single core data set

The Inquiry recommends that the UK government and the Welsh Government improve data collected by children’s social care and criminal justice agencies concerning child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation by the introduction of one single core data set covering both England and Wales.

In order to facilitate this, these agencies should produce consistent and compatible data about child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation which includes:

  • the characteristics of victims and alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse, including age, sex and ethnicity;
  • factors that make victims more vulnerable to child sexual abuse or exploitation; and
  • the settings and contexts in which child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation occur.

Data concerning child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation should be compiled and published on a regular basis. This should be capable of being collated nationally as well as at regional or local levels.

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